Ben: Game developer Quantic Dream has spent the last thirteen years building a reputation as the one of the most prominent makers of interactive drama video games. The games in this genre focus less on actual gameplay, and instead allow you to change the story by making choices that can dramatically alter the fates of characters and how the journey ultimately ends. I had only played some of Beyond: Two Souls until recently, but I can easily see why Quantic Dream has so many fans after completely playing through these other two. Speaking of Quantic Dream fans, Jon is joining me for this review of the of developer’s newest entry, Detroit: Become Human, and their most famous title, Heavy Rain.
Jon: My first interaction with a Quantic Dream title was in university when me and my friends would get together to watch one of us play Heavy Rain. I think that was the beginning of my realization that we were in a new generation of gaming, and that the cinematic nature of these games would broaden the appeal of video games in our culture. Wait, scratch that. The cinematic nature of these games would harken in a new era of visual storytelling.
Ben: After playing these games, it’s easy to understand why you thought that. They feel like movies that are ten hours long (which gives you more time to connect with the characters) and have huge “rewatch” value because of the tremendous impact your seemingly small decisions have upon the outcome of the story.
I can only imagine how incredible Heavy Rain must have been when it was first released eight years ago. While it seemed a tad dated, (to be expected from a game that’s close to a decade old) the engaging journey experienced through well-written characters really made it feel, as you said, “cinematic.” The story was intriguing, intense, and kept me guessing until near the very end. The journey to save Shaun and stop the Origami Killer is one of the best neo-noir thrillers I’ve experienced since Se7en, and that’s extremely high praise coming from me.
Jon: The writing of this game was so remarkable, it also reminded me of any of the classic detective thrillers I’ve seen. But the thing that separates this game from so many of them is the emotional beats throughout it. Every detail of this game was designed to enhance the emotions flowing through the player at any given moment. Whether it was the soundtrack, environments, or gameplay, your nerves or tear ducts were always on edge. And that opening sequence. So many of us reference games like The Last of Us for having these intense emotional prologues. Heavy Rain was probably the first modern game I played to do that. I’ll never hear the name “Jason” the same way again.
Ben: With how much I enjoyed the story, I still had a bit of trouble ignoring Heavy Rain’s one big flaw: The awful controls. They’re mostly forgivable considering that Quantic Dream was essentially bringing a whole new genre to the masses, but the clunky commands really did affect my immersion at times. Luckily, they’ve learned from it since then. Playing through Detroit: Become Human so closely in time to Heavy Rain made it apparent how much work Quantic Dream has put into improving them.
Jon: It’s good you noticed an improvement, because I still struggled in the beginning of the game to get a hang of the controls. I get that switching camera angles makes a game feel more like a story or movie, but don’t throw me right into a high tense, time sensitive hostage situation with me still walking into walls.
I also don’t remember what the saving functions were like in Heavy Rain, but I appreciated that in Detroit you could go back and replay a chapter if you weren’t happy with your outcome. I, er, may have used that function a few times.
I also appreciated the choice trees, which allowed you to see the other paths you could have taken, while not seeing the outcomes. It gave me an appreciation for the diversity of options and level of depth that went into the game, although I know it got some flack for possibly taking away from the spontaneity and authenticity of the choices the players could make.
Ben: I agree, being able to immediately replay chapters was great. I made one choice in Detroit that prematurely ended the stories of two characters, so I’m glad I was able to fix it without replaying the entire game. I don’t know if that feature was present in Heavy Rain because I somehow got the best ending on my first try.
That doesn’t mean I’m done though. In a few months, I’ll replay each of them and be as big of a jerk as possible to get the “bad” endings.
Overall I was pleased with both games, but I enjoyed Heavy Rain more than Detroit: Become Human. The controls were bad, but that story was just so damn good! Detroit: Become Human’s story was nothing to scoff at either, and the controls were much more intuitive, but the Robo-revolution wasn’t quite as enthralling as chasing the Origami Killer.
Jon: I know in my heart of hearts I should agree with you. The twists and turns of the mystery surrounding the Origami Killer are so compelling.
But Detroit’s graphics and cinematics along with the emotional depth of its story put it over the top for me. The drab color scheme of Heavy Rain can seem like a bit much at times, whereas Detroit is bright and vibrant making it more fun to watch and play. Cinematically, nothing in Heavy Rain competes with Marcus’s rebirth. And the thematic core of Detroit strips you bare just as effectively as Heavy Rain did. Playing as three androids fighting to assert their sentience and agency, whether in their role as a detective, activist, or parent gave you more opportunities for moral dilemmas and to feel internally torn. Big ups to the cast who made the journey that much more compelling.
Ben: While we may not agree on which game is better, it sounds like we both greatly enjoyed Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human. Also, I know I’ll play whatever Quantic Dream brings us next within the genre they defined.
So go play these games if you have a PS4, and follow to us at Middle of The Row for more reviews of video games, books, concerts, movies. Also, check out our awesome podcast with Lauren and Zac. Until next time: The best seats are in the Middle of The Row!